There might not be a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but Dublin-based antiques expert and historical dealer Ian Dowling and his team – Mark “Butzy” Butterly, “Vintage” Vinny Smith and Ali Foy – are on the hunt for Irish treasures in new reality series Irish Pickers. Those old things lying in the attic gathering dust that you think are worthless, well, Ian and his team see a possible payday. And with Ireland’s history stretching back as far as it does, sometimes the attic is in a castle.
Ian and the team head to interesting and historic places around the Emerald Isle, hunting out and buying quirky and unusual objects previously hidden from the world. The team travel the length and breadth of Ireland, from farms to stately homes, family businesses to private collectors, architectural salvage dealers and even museums as they search for amazing items of national and local historical significance.
The series is a spin-off from American Pickers, which follows antique dealers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they criss-cross America, buying up items for re-sale. Irish Pickers has more depth, in terms of items of historical value. “We look for things that have a rich history to it, and tells an Irish story,” explains Ian, who says that these items could possibly be right under your nose. “A lot of Irish people are hoarders and have attics, sheds, barns and homes packed with stuff. They don’t really know what they’re looking at.” Even after all these years, there are treasures and cool trash that people haven’t galloped off to Antiques Roadshow with, and Ian is determined to find them.
Picking at history
Picking pumps through Ian’s veins and he is passionate about it. “Picking is the art of buying items with the view to making a profit,” says the treasure king. “For me, I like buying stuff that has a story attached to it. It’s not just about money, but I also like to connect a piece with a new home. Hopefully, to connect something that is unloved, with somebody that will love it and treasure it for many years. And make a bit of profit along the way.”
And Ian has been at it since he was a boy. “My first deal happened when I was 10 years old. I bought a baby monitor, still sealed in its box at a church fete. I bought it cheap, then advertised it in the local community newsletter and sold it for £35 (R795). And that was me hooked.” Ian has some tips if you think you have what it takes to be a picker. “If you can get access to a collector or a hoarder, that's the best way to get a bit of value. If you go to an auction especially, you're competing with other dealers and it's much harder to make a profit.”
An Irish rogue
The series is narrated by Irish actor Ardal O’Hanlon, who played Father Dougal McGuire in drama series Father Ted and DI Jack Mooney in cop show Death In Paradise. And the treasures Ian and his team find are also truly Irish. Ian is particularly taken with pop memorabilia from rockers U2. His biggest find to date is a photograph of Gladiator star Oliver Reed standing next to his favourite Irish bar, which was languishing in a Mexican restaurant in Limerick. “The bar still had a photo of Oliver framed on,” says Ian of the find. He bought it for €700 (R14,354) and sold it for €5,000 (R102,533).
You can find all sorts of things in an Irish pub – including valuable historical documents. “We found a petition from 1876 signed by noble folk, you can tell from the names and address that they have quite a good social standing. They were petitioning to have the law changed in 1876 to allow you to marry your dead wife's sister,” says Ian with a laugh.
Ian’s biggest regret ever as a picker is selling a signed paper, the Good Friday Agreement. “It’s such a big part of Irish history. That agreement ended the violence in Northern Ireland that has been raging since the 1960s. I sold that one too quick.” Treasures that he’s clinging to include a drink awareness poster from the 1800s. “We found an abstinence poster, from the Dublin Abstinence Society. There’s two trees on the poster, the abstinence tree has joy and calm and serenity and all this stuff, and the other tree has death and murder, hatred and envy… it basically promotes sobriety and warns of the evils of getting drunk. It’s dated 1860.”
Haggle for it
On Irish Pickers, vintage dealer Ian and his crew of Irish treasure hunters know exactly how to use the gift of the gab to bag a bargain. And they’ve shared 4 tips with anyone who wants to follow their lead…
- Be openly excited. Dealing with an antique seller, you must show the love and be enthusiastic. Feel it up and ask questions about it. This will build a connection with the seller.
- Don’t be afraid to go low. “Go in so low that you should almost be embarrassed to ask,” says Ian.
- Put more items on your buying list when you deal with a seller. If you feel like the seller is considering your offer, then offer to buy a few other smaller items, too. This will sweeten the deal, and you could walk away with the item you wanted, and maybe a set of novelty dog-shaped egg cups you never knew you needed at all.
- Breathe, stay calm and don’t be nervous. It’ll make you look like you deep-down know the item is worth the original asking price, and you’re just trying to pull a fast one. But it’s a fine line, because you don’t want to be cocky or arrogant, either.
Watch Irish Pickers S1, Wednesdays on History Channel (DStv 186) at 20:15 or on Catch Up
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